The rat thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) precursor (prepro-TRH) contains five copies of the TRH progenitor sequence linked together by intervening sequences. Recently, we have shown that the connecting peptides prepro-TRH-(160-169) (Ps4) and prepro-TRH-(178-199) (Ps5) are released from rat hypothalamic neurones in response to elevated potassium concentrations, in a calcium-dependent manner. In the present study, the role of voltage-operated calcium channels in potassium-induced release of Ps4 and Ps5 was investigated, using a perifusion system for rat hypothalamic slices. The release of Ps4 and Ps5 stimulated by potassium (70 mM) was blocked by the inorganic ions Co2+ (2.6 mM) and Ni2+ (5 mM). In contrast, the stimulatory effect of KCl was insensitive to Cd2+ (100 microM). The dihydropyridine antagonist nifedipine (10 microM) had no effect on K(+)-evoked release of Ps4 and Ps5. Furthermore, the response to KCl was not affected by nifedipine (10 microM) in combination with diltiazem (1 microM), a benzothiazepine which increases the affinity of dihydropyridine antagonists for their receptor. The dihydropyridine agonist BAY K 8644, at concentrations as high as 1 mM, did not stimulate the basal secretion of Ps4 and Ps5. In addition, BAY K 8644 had no potentiating effect on K(+)-induced release of Ps4 and Ps5. The marine cone snail toxin omega-conotoxin, a blocker of both L- and N-type calcium channels had no effect on the release of Ps4 and Ps5 stimulated by potassium. Similarly, the omega-conopeptide SNX-111, a selective blocker of N-type calcium channels, did not inhibit the stimulatory effect of potassium. The release of Ps4 and Ps5 evoked by high K+ was insensitive to the non-selective calcium channel blocker verapamil (20 microM). Amiloride (1 microM), a putative blocker of T-type calcium channels, did not affect KCl-induced secretion of the two connecting peptides. Taken together, these results indicate that two connecting peptides derived from the pro-TRH, Ps4 and Ps5, are released by K(+)-induced depolarization through activation of voltage-sensitive calcium channels. The calcium channels appear to have a pharmacological profile different from that of L- and N-type channels. Although, their insensitivity to low Cd2+ concentrations and sensitivity to Ni2+ ions would support the involvement of T-type calcium channels, the lack of effect of amiloride suggests that they belong to a yet undefined class of calcium channels.